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Meridian Gate (Wumen)

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Meridian Gate (午门) is the south gate of the Forbidden City, with height of 35 meters (114.8 feet). It opens to the south and is located on the meridian line in Chinese culture, thus it gained its name Meridian Gate. It was also named Wufenglou (Five-Phoenix Tower), since on the gate there are five towers connected through a veranda, which look like the unfolding-wing phoenixes.

Meridian Gate of Forbidden City
Meridian Gate of Forbidden City
Interior of Meridian Gate, Forbidden City
Interior of Meridian Gate, Forbidden City

At first glance, the Meridian Gate only has three doorways, but in fact it has another two side doorways in the east and west city walls. The most central doorway among the three main ones was for the emperor usually. The exceptions were the empress, who could go through it once on the day of the wedding, and the top three scholars of the triennial imperial civil service examination, who could leave the palace through the central doorway after passing the exam and getting the honor. In the Qing Dynasty (1644 - 1911), the smaller doorway on the left was for the civil and military officials, while the right one was for the royal family. The two side doorways were closed for most of the time, except when the emperor held a grand ceremony in the Hall of Supreme Harmony, the civil and military officials would enter the palace through them.

In the Ming and Qing dynasties, the Meridian Gate had five major functions. First, there were bell and drum pavilions on the right and left sides of the central gate tower, equipped with bells and drums. The bells would be stuck when the emperor went out of the gate to offer sacrifices at the Temple of Heaven. The drums would be beaten when the emperor went to the imperial ancestral temple. Both the bells and drums would sound when a grand ceremony was to be held by the emperor in the palace. Second, in the Ming Dynasty (1368 - 1644), the emperor would host a banquet to entertain all his officials on the Lantern Festival. At that time, various lanterns would be hung on this gate and the ordinary people were allowed to enjoy at that day. Third, in the Qing Dynasty, the emperor would issue the lunar calendar for the coming year on this gate on the first day of tenth month in the Chinese lunar calendar. Fourth, in the Ming and Qing dynasties, when the army came back victorious, the emperor would get up to this gate to receive the Offering Captive Ritual. Fifth, the imperial proclamations were also issued here.

It is widely known among the Chinese that the Meridian Gate was the place where condemned ranking officials were executed in ancient China. That is also what most Chinese TV plays and films show. However, the Meridian Gate was indeed a very important a place for imperial instead of an execution ground. Only in the Ming Dynasty, a judicial corporal punishment called Tingzhang was carried out on the eastern side of the imperial road in front of the gate.

 Go to the Next Attraction: Hall of Literary Glory & Hall of Martial Valor 

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